San Jose Comes to Life

As you read this, downtown San Jose is in the throngs of a new enterprise called Left Coast Live. This is, perhaps, the purest example of what happens when a bunch of people, instead of sitting around and complaining, actually stand up and do something.

The entire scenario is exciting for several reasons. The timing rocks, especially since San Jose just passed up the 1 million mark and still doesn’t have a reasonable nightlife comparable to other cities with half its population.

Also, because of another enterprise called San Jose Rocks, there is an ever-growing interest in local rock history from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and according to local legend Gordon Stevens, there was a serious, equally important, Latin scene out on the East Side during the ‘60s as well—something hardly anyone talks about or even remembers.

Furthermore, festivals are something San Jose usually does well, especially the Jazz Festival, which just a few years ago began incorporating a club crawl so attendees could check out some live bands in the clubs, as opposed to immediately returning back home after the day’s events.

Lastly, many people from my era who grew up driving to San Francisco or the East Bay to see shows, since there was absolutely nothing to do in San Jose for those under 21 until the Cactus Club opened. Remember how bloody fun it was when that club, along with Marsugi’s, Ajax and F/X, started a live-music scene on South First Street? You had businessmen in suits hanging out right next to people with Mohawks.

The folks behind Left Coast Live keep using phrases like “Bring live music back to San Jose” or “Rebirth live music in San Jose,” so they definitely know that live music at least used to be on a lot of people’s radar. With luck, such a mind-set will return, and someday we might actually see club owners who want to contribute to the cultural landscape and/or landlords who actually care about the community rather than knowingly renting to troublesome clubs just to make a quick buck.

But getting back to the concept of a Latin scene in the ‘60s, last week a press conference was held for the San Jose Mariachi and Mexican Heritage Festival. It took place in the Fairmont. Linda Ronstadt still holds court as the festival’s artistic director, and for this year’s incarnation, she brought in Carlos Santana, who will perform in a huge tribute gig for Cesar Chavez this coming Sept. 20–27, so he himself actually showed up to the press conference and had quite a bit of inspiring and provocative things to say.

When asked how or why he originally migrated from mariachi to rock music, he said that when attending a picnic in San Jose in 1962, he heard mariachi music coming from one part of the landscape and rock music from another part. “When taking in the aerial view, I just grabbed all of it,” he recalled. He added that San Jose has the capacity for being grand central for Latin rock & roll, and that “We should celebrate Cesar Chavez day nationally, not just in California.”

And this one: “Everybody is born an angel with wings of imagination and willingness. Some people may even be chickens or turkeys—especially if you wake up automatically thinking someone’s going to mess with you. I choose to wake up, and wake everyone up with vibration and sound.”

Santana then went on to repeatedly bash Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, calling them the “exterminators of education, while referring to Ronstadt and himself as the “weapons of mass compassion.”

Finally, he philosophized that for musicians, the goal is to be eternally relevant. “Someone can be ahead of his time, but a month later, he could be passé,” said Santana. “I invite all musicians to wake up and be eternally relevant.”




  1. Sweetness in Downtown said,“It may become a fulcrum to bring back music education in our schools!”
    Wouldn’t that be awesome! You’ve got my vote!

  2. Given San Jose’s role in music history and the decades long efforts to make downtown San Jose a vital urban center in SIlicon Valley, I can think no facet of that plan that has the highest ROI than live music.

    As a drummer in cover band Black Pearl, co-founder of San Jose Rocks, downtown business man and resident, I’ve witnessed first-hand the direct benefit to quality of life and cash registers live music generate.

    BP opened up for Count V at A.P. Stumps last night. The place was packed and so was Smoke Tiki.

    A lot will be learned from the inaugural Left Coast LIve. I pray that the discussion will be productive.

    Check out:

  3. Respectfully submitted in complement to Dan O’s suggestion for a productive discussion:

    I chatted with Dan at City Year’s 15th “birthday” celebration, Starry Starry Night, this evening.  It seems something is going on downtown that’s being overlooked.

    The city, bureaucrats and elected-officials alike, united behind two organizations to propel them to success.  Mayor Hammer, like a good CEO, made a good judgment call at the right time supporting City Year.  I suspect time will allow Mayor Reed and Left Coast Live a similar spotlight.  Support for non-governmental organizations like City Year and Left Coast Live seem to be aligning the stars for effective, real change downtown and citywide.

    I had a brief conversation with a staff person at Billy Berk’s (one of our newest and finest eateries) last night.  I asked him how Left Coast Live affected their business.  He commented that they seated around 300 tables as of 11PM, up from the usual 200 or so for a Friday night.

    Attracting consumers of downtown is a focus of the efforts of Left Coast Live and 1st Act (an advocate of Left Coast Live).  Informal estimates indicate their efforts seem to be working.

    As a downtown property- and business-owner, a consumer of downtown, it was refreshing and encouraging seeing new faces downtown.  As chair of the SJSV Chamber of Commerce’s group, Today’s Young Professionals, I look forward to a downtown that’s attractive to my ever-illusive target market.

    (Doing my due diligence for full-disclosure, not for self-promotion, I worked with the Left Coast Live team providing its initial brand and designs)

  4. When I first arrived at Left Coast Live the music was rockin’ but there were not as many people as I expected. I locked my bike to a rack that had one other.

    Before I left I’d run into dozens of people I knew. The streets were filled with good natured folks all chatting as they ran into each other about who was playing where, who they’d bumped into and what had to be seen/heard. I walked from the ICA, Museum of Quilts & Textiles, MACLA through the closed portion of S First and along Santa Clara.  Enjoyed Black Pearl and Count Five, Booker T, Usurper Vong, the Yoga Shala instructor singing torch songs, the muscisians who showed up uninvited to play in empty parking lots and lot’s of other great music.

    When I unlocked my bike the rack was overflowing, the parking meters were renegade bike parking, parking lot chains had dozens of bikes chained to them and people were everywhere. So, JMO’C, maybe you left too early.

    Thanks to Chris Esparza, Giant Creative, 1st ACT for pulling it off. Thanks to Pirate Jim and Dan for keeping it rockin’ and thanks to Jack W for the City Year shout out. Thanks to Sal for the kind words and tech tips.

  5. I had a great time @ Left Coast Live; but they need to increase their marketing efforts.

    I chatted with one manager of a DT venue, and he didn’t even know what it was, despite the fact that there was a poster for it in the window of the establishment he manages.  Fully 2/3 of the folks I chatted with that knew of it, called it WEST Coast Live.  Maybe a name change is in order.

    Nice to hear that there were no major disturbances requiring police intervention.

  6. Did they ever get the ticket kiosk open near Gordon Biersch?

    Early in the evening, I directed a few people to that location upon their inquiry re where to buy aristbands.  I bumped into 2 later, who said there was no ticket availability there; so I sent them to San Pedro Square, where I had purchased mine.

    Myabe you’re right, Lisa; I left ‘round midnight.  Had to be up for a 6:30 tee time @ Spring Valley the next a.m.
    The restaurant venues didn’t require the wristband, and no-one checked for mine when I entered the Main Stage and mini main stage areas, twice each.

  7. Hey y’all.  On behalf of the Left Coast Live team thanks for the props and the feedback.  Yup, we have learned a lot this year about what worked and what we could have done better. 

    Regardless, we think that together we all started something big- festival organizers, musicians and music fans.  It is clear that there is no shortage of great music in San Jose and we stand committed to doing what we can to create a space that showcases local and regional talent and provides world class entertainment to the South Bay.

    We’re excited and floored by how many came out to enjoy the music, the # of venues who wanted to book live bands and the # of kick butt performers. We are motivated to make it bigger and better! I look forward to your feedback and thoughts on how to make it better.

  8. Great coverage of Left Coast Live and the local scene!  You definitely do your part to cultivate.

    What interesting timing of LCL and a surge to perserve an honor local music.  I think this is great and I see a revival on it’s way, one success at a time, but the talk and hum has begun, so it’s really getting exciting again to be a part of the south bay live music scene!